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Ruskin boy in coma after being struck by celebratory New Year's gunfire

Published Jan. 2, 2012

RUSKIN — Diego Duran stood on his family's front lawn to watch New Year's Eve fireworks cut through the darkness, snapping and popping in the air over their Ruskin home.

As the bright bursts of light fell and faded after midnight, a bullet dropped with them.

Diego's mother saw her son collapse to the ground. His sisters and a friend at first thought he was joking.

But when Sandra Duran knelt to check on her 12-year-old son, she became covered in blood that poured from his nose and eyes.

She drove Diego to South Bay Hospital in Sun City Center, where doctors found he had been shot in the top of his head.

No one knows where the bullet came from, but authorities believe it was fired from miles away in a New Year's celebration.

"Here we have a 12-year-old kid fighting for his life because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.

Detectives spoke with Diego's family and neighbors Sunday morning and determined that no one in the immediate vicinity of the home had been firing a gun at the time, around 1 a.m. Sunday, according to authorities.

"The bullet was quite a large one," said family friend Dee Sims. "They said it could have come from 2 or 3 miles away."

Diego was later taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he remained in critical condition Sunday evening. His mother was at his side all day as he lay in a coma, Sims said, the bullet still lodged under his eye.

Sandra and her husband, Diego Sr., have rented a small home for eight years behind Sims' 10-acre farm property.

"He's one of the best men somebody's ever going to meet when he grows up," the boy's father told Bay News 9. "He's a man in the making. Somebody just put a stop sign on him, but he ain't going to give up. He's going to grow up and be a better man than what I am."

He has two sisters, Genesis, 14, and Grace, 16, Sims said. Like them, Diego is an A student. He loves football and baseball and has become a skateboarding fan.

The farming community where they live has its share of gun owners and hunters, Sims said. Celebratory gunfire isn't unusual.

"We hear it all the time," Sims said. "I don't know why people do things like that."

The firing of weapons into the air in celebration is not an uncommon practice.

It's illegal in most states, including Florida. Authorities often remind people not to do it.

"Nationally it's a huge issue," McKinnon said. "What somebody thinks is a cheap form of fun and entertainment, it has potentially catastrophic consequences."

Last year, a 6-year-old boy was hit and injured by a stray bullet during a New Year's Eve celebration he was attending with his parents at a Miami restaurant.

In 2007, a 69-year-old Plantation man was killed in his back yard on New Year's Day by a stray rifle bullet.

A 2006 incident in which two people were shot during a New Year's Eve celebration in Delray Beach led then-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner to introduce a bill increasing the penalty for firing a gun into the air. The bill did not pass, and the maximum penalty for firing into the air remains a year in jail.

But if someone is hurt or killed, the consequences are greater.

Detectives want to talk to anyone who might know of someone firing a weapon into the air early Sunday in the Ruskin area. Anyone with information is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200.

Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at dsullivan@tampabay.com.

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